Threats and tragedies spark security changes By Carolyn French and Julia Jacoby

A wave of anxiety washed through the halls when the fire alarm rang out two days following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The parallels between Parkland’s tragedy and the environment of Redwood became all too similar. Both are wealthy communities known for their well-established public schools, and with the fire alarm echoing through otherwise silent corridors, a feeling of safety was temporarily lost.

After the series of, thankfully fruitless, shooting and bomb threats that have occured over the past year, Redwood has acquired a reputation for its excessive threats. These threats have unfortunately become the reality for many schools the United States. Following the tragedy that struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, security has become more of a pressing concern than ever. According to a recent self-reported Bark survey, 45 percent of students feel less safe at Redwood, “given recent events.”

Infographic by Julia Jacoby

“It's so troubling when the school becomes targeted because, number one, it's our young people,” said Redwood principal David Sondheim. “And I think there is no bond like the bond between a parent and a child, and so the thought that our children are at risk is something we work our entire parenthood to try to minimize. It strikes fear almost like no other.”

This type of fear has risen for students as well, as schools nationwide have seemingly become a target for violent expression. According to the New Yorker, many have dubbed the years following 1999 as the “school shooting era,” after the Columbine High School massacre occurred. Through the 2000s, school environments and policies have been more affected by the fear of gun violence in schools.

Junior Sam Jackson said that the rising prevalence of shootings has made him more aware of the threats at school.

“[School security] hadn’t even entered my mind before this year. I’ve never thought of it as a threat until now. I think that that definitely comes from Parkland and the prevalence of school shootings now,” Jackson said.

According to Wellness Center Coordinator Jennifer Kenny-Baum, part of this new standard is a “normalized” reaction to these types of events.

“As the threats have continued we’ve seen [Wellness visits] kind of go down and that’s attributed to students beginning, sadly, to normalize this as part of their experience,” Kenny-Baum said.

Despite admin’s efforts to adjust crisis protocols, 54 percent of students in the same Bark survey self-reported feeling that Redwood administration hasn’t done enough to address the issue of safety at school.

Infographic by Carolyn French

According to Jackson, he and many of his peers have been frustrated with the lack of staff-to-student communication, and feel that administration has been prioritizing the school’s public relations and image over student communication. Jackson hopes to see a change in this in the future.

“However we can get our voices across to the admin [will help]—I don’t think that necessarily means a big march or a walk out or a moment of silence. I think that that just should come from even individuals speaking with admin and voicing their opinions,” Jackson said.

These events, while frightening for some, provide insight into the merits of the school’s current security protocols, according to Sondheim.

“I think what the various threats this year have done is [that] they have gotten people on edge more than our staff and students and parents normally are. At the same time they have allowed us to look at protocols not just in drill form but what are closer to real form,” Sondheim said. “And so we've gotten a much better idea of changes that we needed to make, and we have been able to make those.”

Robert Roman, a campus security staff member, has been involved in the procedures that have taken place due to security threats throughout the year.

“It unfortunately helps me become much less complacent,” Roman said. “I’m just making sure my head is always on a swivel, or if I see anything out of place I make sure to report it. Unfortunately when this happens it makes your senses a little more aware.”

On Sept. 29, graffiti was found in the girls bathroom, and the Redwood administration sent an email to parents and students recognizing the potential danger.

Roman, who has been working at Redwood for the past five years and spent a year and a half as a trained police officer in San Rafael, feels that he is personally well-trained in addressing security breaches and threats to the safety of others. However, according to Roman, Redwood security guards do not need to meet any prerequisite policing or security experience besides a background check.

Recently, staff and security participated in an active shooter training session called the Senate Bill 1626 School Security Training Course. The training took place Feb. 26 through Feb. 28, and was orchestrated by Ron Saul, a trainer and an attorney of the Police Science Institute of Fresno. Staff were trained on procedures for active shooters and went over the rights that staff and students have on campus.

“It opened my eyes more to not only the actual safety of the school, but also to what we can and can’t do,” Roman said.

As for what Redwood can and can’t do, political controversy extending beyond the campus has spurred discussion about arming teachers. Following the Parkland shooting, some political figures are pledging to pass a bill enabling teachers to carry firearms on campus.

President Donald Trump advocated for the idea. On Feb. 24 Trump tweeted, "Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them. Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again - a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States."

Roman does not believe that teachers should have the ability to carry a gun on school campus. However, Roman does think it’s more reasonable for security to have the privilege to, as their main function on campus is to ensure safety.

“Just because you have a gun doesn’t mean you know how to use it. It requires a lot of training because it is a perishable skill, where if you don’t train you’ll lose your accuracy,” Roman said.

This stance is shared by Sondheim, who believes teachers already have enough responsibility and do not need the added pressures of handling a weapon.

Since 2013, there have been 299 school shootings in America, according to Everytown For Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group. This year, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting is the sixth school shooting that has resulted in injuries, and there have been 18 incidents of gunfire in schools, according to Everytown For Gun Safety.

Regardless, Sondheim maintains that while these incidents are horrific, they are still statistically insignificant in broader context and should not be considered a norm or a conventional part of schooling.

“I think there's a heightened level of fear, certainly that’s been there for us this year with the different incidents we've had, and yet we still by and large by numbers are very safe in our schools. Does that mean that we feel as safe as we actually are? That's two different things,” said Sondheim. “We know there are 100,000 public schools in the country and almost all of them have never had an incident, but some have and some of those incidents have been horrific, and like a plane crash it jars us emotionally.”

A vigil held at Tamalpais High School following the Parkland shooting.

With the increase in threats at Redwood this year, students’ perspectives on the idea of a shooting being possible have shifted.

“I feel like we’re going to become this school that cried wolf with all these threats. Parkland was just like us,” Jackson said.

Though Sondheim emphasized that the overwhelming majority of schools never experience violent attacks, both Sondheim and Roman stressed the importance of providing emotional support for students, especially those who may be troubled. Sondheim cited the Wellness Center as an example of this support.

“[The Wellness Center] provides more services for kids, but additionally, the beauty of something like a Wellness Center is it de-stigmatizes and helps everybody become more aware of behavioral and emotional challenges—everything from the standard challenges of being a young person all the way to somebody who might do something terrible to a community,” Sondheim said.

Kenny-Baum said that Wellness plays an even bigger role in the connection between mental health and gun control.

“What we seem to see with school shootings is that it’s a lot of students who have historically felt that they don't fit in. That they felt rejected from peers, and that have felt like it’s a buildup of anger, resentment, sadness and depression. I feel like those are things where we have a real role in being able to support people,” Kenny-Baum said.

Sondheim indicated that there would be changes to Redwood’s security and crisis protocols, but declined to comment about the specificities of these changes, as they are still under review.

Sondheim stated the importance of community initiative in ensuring school safety, such as educating students and family members on school protocols and keeping any guns in the home locked away and out of students’ reach in order to keep Redwood a place of learning and benevolence.

“[School violence] is like an earthquake: one of the challenges of an earthquake is that which we think of as the most stable—the ground—is moving. Our reality is never that the ground moves, so it’s upsetting to our emotional status quo, and I think we think of schools as one of the most benevolent, safest, kindest places in our communities,” Sondheim said.

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